News & Politics

Washington Monument Scaffolding Project Nears Completion (Photo)

The final phase is a lighting ceremony in June.

Photographs by Carol Ross Joynt.

Anyone who has recently passed the Washington Monument—and that includes most of us
who live here, plus another 25 million annual visitors to the Mall—can’t help but
notice the almost daily progress of the scaffolding rising on the city’s most visible
landmark. According to officials from the National Park Service, the scaffolding installation
is more than halfway completed. In the next few weeks, weather permitting, the pyramidion
at the top will be the final element. When it is topped off, workers will apply sheets
of fabric from top to bottom, plus lights. The lights are cosmetic and will be turned
on in June in a special lighting ceremony.

We got this timely update Thursday from two people in the know—Robert Vogel, the superintendent of the Mall, and
Carol Johnson, who is with NPS—when we had a moment to talk with them at the annual luncheon of
the Trust for the National Mall. It’s held on the grounds near the National Museum
of American History, a spot where one can’t help but look up at the towering Monument,
which has been closed since it was damaged in an earthquake in August 2011. Vogel
and Johnson say the overall repair project is scheduled to be finished by this time
next year, barring any unforeseen setbacks.

But first things first: the pyramidion. “Once they get to the pyramidion, from where
it starts to angle in, it takes another two weeks to complete the scaffolding,” says
Johnson. “That’s the most complex part of the scaffold.” Vogel says the top piece
is the “most challenging part of the overall project, because the majority of the
damage is at the pyramidion level.”

The stone masons won’t go up until the scaffold work is done, they say.

Vogel notes that “everyone is watching very closely,” which is a particular reason
the NPS has endeavored to keep the public informed about details of the restoration.
But, he also notes, “it’s a construction project like any other construction project,
like on your house,” so start and finish dates are approximate.

The last time the monument was encased in scaffolding was during a restoration project
that ran from 1989 to 2000. The conceptual, almost Christo-like look was a hit. In
fact, some people suggested the scaffolding be kept up, but the Park Service nixed
that idea, for reasons that shouldn’t need to be explained. As Vogel says, “After
all, it’s the Washington Monument.”

Later, just before lunch was served to the almost 1,000 guests,
Chip Akridge, chairman of the Trust for the National Mall, commented on the monument, calling
it “the tallest stack of rocks in the world.” People laughed, but he wasn’t kidding.
“There’s no mortar between those stones. It’s literally a pile of rocks.”

Caroline Cunningham, the group’s president, praised the individuals and organizations who have contributed
millions of dollars in funds for the overall restoration of the Mall, including, as
was announced at the luncheon, a $10 million gift from Volkswagen. “The restoration
work is the largest capital improvement on the National Mall in 40 years,” she said,
commending the dedication of interior secretary
Ken Salazar. “I remember clearly his first official visit,” she said, as he stood by her on the
stage. “The Park Service and Trust took him on a tour. After a few shocking sights—the
front of the Jefferson Plaza sinking, broken sidewalks, and dead, rock-solid turf—he
made the National Mall’s restoration his top priority.”

The luncheon is known as the “hat lunch,” because so many women, and some men, attend
in their best millinery. Thursday was no exception.